In this episode of Masonic Symbols and Symbolism, we explore the symbolism behind the Volume of Sacred Law as used in Freemasonry. Few elements are as contentious as this “indispensable book” in the lodge. Perhaps because of the diversity of faiths who claim ownership of the “one true religion…” Whatever the case, Freemasonry being the religion upon which all men agree. So which Volume of the Sacred Law is the right one?
What holy book does your lodge place on the altar? Let us know in the comments below.
Taken from The Builder magazine from 1920, it says “As the Trestle Board is for the Master to lay lines and draw designs on to enable the brethren to carry on the intended structure with regularity and propriety, so the Volume of the Sacred Law may justly be deemed the spiritual trestle board of the Great Architect of the Universe in which are laid down such divine laws and mortal precepts that were we conversant therewith and adherent thereto they would bring us to an ethereal mansion not built with hands but one eternal in the heavens.”
The Volume of the Sacred Law is considered one of the landmarks of Freemasonry and Albert Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, defines it as “an indispensable part of the furniture of every Lodge.” “Advisedly,” he says, “a Book of the Law, because it is not absolutely required that everywhere the Old and New Testaments.”
Mackey goes on to say, “The Book of the Law is that volume which, by the religion of the country, is believed to contain the revealed will of the Grand Architect of the Universe. Hence, in all Lodges in Christian countries, the Book of the Law is composed of the Old and New Testaments; in a country where Judaism was the prevailing faith, the Old Testament alone would be sufficient; and in Islamic countries, the Koran might be substituted.
Masonry does not attempt to interfere with the particular religious faith of its disciples, except so far as relates to the belief in the existence of God, and what necessarily results from that belief. The Book of the Law is, to the speculative Mason, his spiritual Trestle board; without this he cannot labor; whatever he believes to be the revealed will of the Grand Architect constitutes for him this spiritual Trestleboard, and must ever be before him in his hours of speculative labor, to be the rule and guide of his conduct. The Landmark, therefore, requires that a Book of the Law, a religious code of some kind, purporting to be an exemplar of the revealed will of God, shall form in essential part of the furniture of every Lodge.”
In its most distilled essence, one could interpret the idea of the Book of Law, as an amalgam of all sacred texts (in so far as all faiths are represented) or, as in some iterations of Freemasonry, as a blank book that is emblematic of all faiths including non-traditional acknowledgements of agnostics, hermetic, pagan or even perhaps atheism.
The modern incarnation of Freemasonry dates to around 1717, but, was that truly the beginning of the “ancient” and honorable fraternity?
The history of modern Freemasonry is fairly understood, going back to roughly the 1700’s. Beyond that point in time, information starts to become less available. Their are some documents and notable figures prior to that point in time, such as the Regius/Halliwell poem, and notables like Elias Ashmole, but no certifiable records exist to demonstrate organized activity as we have today.
One of the virtues of Freemasonry is that its study and practice allow members to explore this topic, and at times travel outside the bounds of connections typically explored in mainstream history. Some Masonic historians have attempted to draw connections to the Knights Templar, the Rosicrucian’s, Jewish Kabbalah traditions, Hermetica, Alchemy, Christian Mysticism, and to much further back to the precursor Essenes at the time of Jesus. These explorations have been considered in both the past and present Masonic scholarship to varying degrees of acceptance, but many points of contention remain.
In present day, Freemasonry has little changed in the preced-ing 200 years since the founding of the United Grand Lodge of England, and is modeled in a system that was likely little changed for the 150 years prior to that. It is believed that the working aspects of Freemasonry, the form and function of the lodge, comes from the stone working guilds of the European Renaissance and middle ages which, over time as that trade profession became less specialized, attracted new members of non practicing “speculative masons.”
From that shift, the present day fraternity moved from an “operative” guild to a “speculative” one in that the function of the lodge turned to the allegorical and symbolic meanings of the stone masons and less about the physical operation. These changes have evolved to shape the look and feel of modern lodge operation today.
What is Freemasonry hiding? Is there some great mystery at work in the secret workings of the Masonic Lodge? Why are Freemasons so Secretive?
Many masons will not answer questions about the fraternity as they believe it is supposed to be a secret. In the end this becomes a loss for the fraternity as any time someone asks a question about Masonry, it’s a great opportunity to talk openly about it.
A common reaction to this idea is that Masonry is a “Society with Secrets”, rather than a “Secret Society”, but this is equally confusing. There are aspects to Freemasonry that are kept and taught to only those who go through the initiations and ceremonies so as to keep them in a proper perspective and contextual meaning. These aspects are not secrets but instead knowledge that is best communicated in a specific and concise manner.
Many of the secrets have been published and written about, in many instances by Freemasons themselves, but the foundations of the teachings can be found throughout the spectrum of faiths and philosophical teachings of the past and present. It is in the process of their teaching that it could be best suggested where they are truly secret.
One of the oldest fraternities in the western world, a Freemason is the common name for those initiated into the fraternity of Freemasonry. But, what elements are at work in ones decision to become a one?
From the What is Freemasonry ebook, a Freemason is a man who, in searching for life’s ineffable questions, finds his way into the company of fellow seekers. Comprised of men from every nation, races, social and economic level, all hold similar ideals and beliefs.
The uniting idea is a faith in the divine founded in the certitude in an afterlife. This “belief” is grounded by certain landmark tenants and virtues which ultimately lead in exploration of those invisible questions, leading ultimately to the betterment of all mankind.
There are some interviewees that make life difficult for you. Sometimes it is like pulling teeth to get them to open up and expound on a question.
Michael Schiavello, an experienced broadcaster, writer and author is not one of those. When you ask him a question he takes off and runs with.
Here is an author who has blended the esoteric thought of Freemasonry with the practical application of its philosophy. Schiavello reminds me a lot of Dr. John Nagy with his Life Application and his questions at the end of each chapter. Nagy, however, writes strictly for Freemasons while Schiavello writes for Masons and non-Masons alike. And that is what makes this book so universal. It deals with universal truths time proven from Masters of ancient times to the current age. Freemasonry is a way of life. And Schiavello writes a primer on how to live the noble life. He urges us and shows us how to pay equal attention to our spiritual side as well as our earthly side. He promotes a life of Balance.
Freemasonry makes good men better and this is one of the few books that will actually show you how that can be done using the symbolism of the Craft. This is not only a must book for Freemasons it is a handbook for anybody and everybody, Mason and non-Mason alike. There is no doubt in my mind that Know Thyself: Using the Symbols of Freemasonry to Improve Your Life will become a classic standing tall with the works of Wayne Dywer, Mitch Albom. Scott Peck and Neale Donald Walsch.
In this installment of Symbols and Symbolism, we explore the origins of the Latin phrase ordo ab chao better known as order out of chaos. Often taken as an esoteric alliteration of transformation, the source of this oft used Latin phrase has its roots deeply embedded in the origin story of the Scottish Rite in the Americas.
While philosophically esoteric, the phrase holds closer to the literal movement from darkness into light, with the formation of the Scottish Rite at Charleston.
Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, describes the phrase, thus:
A Latin expression, meaning Order out of Chaos. A motto of the Thirty-third Degree, and having the same allusion as lux e tenebrious(this Latin phrase belongs to the Latin translation of the Gospel of John: “et lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non conprehenderunt,” meaning “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it”). The invention of this motto is to be attributed to the Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite at Charleston, and it is first met with in the Patent of Count Alexandre Francois Auguste de Grasse, dated February 1, 1802. When De Grasse afterward carried the rite over to France and established a Supreme Council there, he changed the motto, and, according to Lenning in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry 1822 or 1828,Ordo ab hoc, Order Out of This, was used by him and his Council in all their documents.
The phrase appears on the grand decorations of the Order of the Sovereign Grand Inspectors General. The decoration rests on a Teutonic Cross which sits below a nine-pointed star, formed by three triangles of gold, one upon the other, and interlaced. From the lower part of the left side toward the upper part of the right extends a sword, and, in the opposite direction, a hand of Justice. In the middle is the shield of the Order, blue; upon the shield is an eagle like that on the banner; on the dexter side of the shield is a golden balance, and on the sinister a golden compass resting on a golden square. Around the whole shield runs a stripe of blue, lettered in gold with the Latin words ” ORDO AB CHAO;” and this stripe is enclosed by a double circle formed by two serpents of gold, each holding his tail in his mouth. Of the smaller triangles formed by the intersection of the principal ones, those nine that are nearest the blue stripe are coloured red, and on each is one of the letters that constitute the word S. A. P. I. E. N. T. I. A. (Latin: wisdom, discernment, memory)
You can read more installments of Mackey’s Encyclopedia under Symbols & Symbolism here on this site and video of these segments on YouTube.
In this installment of Symbols and Symbolism, we look at Albert Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry definition of the Great Architect of the Universe, more aptly know as the deity or God. While an obvious connection to the cosmic power at hand in in the mysterious workings of the cosmos, his definition is an interesting skirting of an obvious connection to a Christian appellation and connection to the Christianization of Freemasonry as he opines “… it cannot be denied that since the advent of Christianity a Christian element has been almost imperceptibly infused into the Masonic system, at least among Christian Masons” So then, how does Mackey define the aspect of deity at work in the doings of Freemasonry – as a Great Architect of the Universe.
You can read more installments of Mackey’s Encyclopedia under Symbols & Symbolism here on this site and video of these segments on YouTube.
From Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry:
The title applied in the technical language of Freemasonry to the Deity.
It is appropriate that a society founded on the principles of architecture, which symbolizes the terms of that science to moral purposes, and whose members profess to be the architects of a spiritual temple should view the Divine Being, under whose holy law they are constructing that edifice, as their Master Builder or Great Architect. Sometimes, but less correctly, the title “Grand Architect of the Universe” is found.
In this edition of Symbols and Symbolism, we look at a reading from Albert G. Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry on the subject of Riding the Goat.
Goat riding is one of those superstition that permeates most every corner of fraternal initiation. Not exclusively a Masonic institution, goat riding or making candidates “ride the goat” has been an aspect of hazing fueled initiation meant to scare and embarrass neophytes and initiates joining the institution. Yet, the practice seems to have a more succinct history involving ancient pagan practice and ritual.
The vulgar idea that “riding the goat” constitutes a part of the ceremonies of initiation in a Masonic Lodge has its real origin in the superstition of antiquity. The old Greeks and Romans portrayed their mystical god Pan in horns and hoof and shaggy hide, and called him “goat-footed.” When the demonology of the classics was adopted and modified by the early Christians, Pan gave way to Satan, who naturally inherited his attributes; so that to the common mind the Devil was represented by a he-goat, and his best known marks were the horns, the beard, and the cloven hoofs. Then came the witch stories of the Middle Ages, and the belief in the witch orgies, where, it was said, the Devil appeared riding on a goat. These orgies of the witches, where, amid fearfully blasphemous ceremonies, they practiced initiation into their Satanic Rites, became, to the vulgar and the illiterate, the type of the Masonic Mysteries; for, as Dr. Oliver says, it was in England a common belief that the Freemasons were accustomed in their Lodges “to raise the Devil.” So the “riding of the goat,” which was believed to be practiced by the witches, was transferred to the Freemasons; and the saying remains to this day although the belief has very long since died out.
In this installment of Symbols and Symbolism, we look at the meaning behind the iconic slogan of the York RightKnight Templars – In Hoc Signo Vinces (pronounced – in hohk sig-noh wing-kase). Translated from Latin to read “By this sign thou shalt conquer,” the motto, and its corresponding association with the passion cross are, perhaps, a misrepresentation of its original and true intention and an adoption by later Christian military orders in their conquest over the pagan world.
Despite its militaristic association, the motto and the symbols it represents have perhaps a far older symbolic meaning into the mysteries of Egypt and beyond.
From Albert Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry:
On the Grand Standard of a Commandery of Knights Templar these words are inscribed over “a blood-red Passion Cross,” and they constitute in part the motto of the American branch of the Order. Their meaning, “By this sign thou shalt conquer,” is a substantial, but not literal, translation of the original Greek. For the origin of the motto, IN HOC SIGNO VINCES (pronounced “In hoke seeg-noh ween-case” from the Greek) we must go back to a well-known legend of the Church, which has, however, found more doubters than believers among the learned. Eusebius, who wrote a life of Constantine says that while the emperor was in Gaul, in the year 312, preparing for war with his rival, Maxentius, about the middle hours of the day, as the sun began to verge toward its setting, he saw in the heavens with his own eyes, the sun surmounted with the trophy of the cross, which was composed of light, and a legend annexed, which said “by this conquer.” This account Eusebius affirms to be in the words of Constantine.
Lactantius, who places the occurrence at a later date and on the eve of a battle with Maxentius, in which the latter was defeated, relates it not as an actual occurrence, but as a dream or vision; and this is now the generally received opinion of those who do not deem the whole legend a fabrication. On the next day, Constantine had an image of this cross made into a banner, called the labarum, which he ever afterward used as the imperial standard. Eusebius describes it very fully. It was not a Passion Cross, such as is now used on the modern Templar standard, but the monogram of Christ. The shaft was a very long spear.
On the toll was a crown composed of Gold and precious stones, and containing the sacred symbol, namely, the Greek letter “rho” or P. intersected by the “chi” or X, which two letters are the first and second of the name “XRISTOS”, or Christ. If then, the Templars retain the motto on their banner, they should, for the sake of historical accuracy, discard the Passion Cross, and replace it with the Constantinian Chronogram, or Cross of the Labarum. But the truth is that the ancient Templars used neither the Passion Cross, nor that of Constantine, nor was the motto “In Hoc Signo Vinces” on their standard. Their only banner was the black and white Beauseant, and at the bottom of it was inscribed their motto, also in Latin, “Non nobis Domine, non-nobis, sed nomini to da gloriam, meaning “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thee give the glory.” This was the song or shout of victory sung by the Templars when triumphant in battle.
Manly P. Hall, in his Secret Teachings of All Ages, finds parallels with In Hoc Sig Vinces in an examination of the Tau cross and the Crux Ansata, saying:
There are three distinct forms of the cross. The first is called the TAU (more correctly the TAV). It closely resembles the modern letter T, consisting of a horizontal bar resting on a vertical column, the two arms being of equal length. An oak tree cut off some feet above the ground and its upper part laid across the lower in this form was the symbol of the Druid god Hu. It is suspected that this symbol originated among the Egyptians from the spread of the horns of a bull or ram (Taurus or Aries) and the vertical line of its face. This is sometimes designated as the hammer cross, because if held by its vertical base it is not unlike a mallet or gavel. In one of the Qabbalistic Masonic legends, CHiram Abiff is given a hammer in the form of a TAU by his ancestor, Tubal-cain. The TAU cross is preserved to modern Masonry under the symbol of the T square. This appears to be the oldest form of the cross extant.
The TAU cross was inscribed on the forehead of every person admitted into the Mysteries of Mithras. When a king was initiated into the Egyptian Mysteries, the TAU was placed against his lips. It was tattooed upon the bodies of the candidates in some of the American Indian Mysteries. To the Qabbalist, the TAU stood for heaven and the Pythagorean tetracts. The Caduceus of Hermes was an outgrowth of the TAU cross.
The second type was that of a T, or TAU, cross surmounted by a circle, often foreshortened to the form of an upright oval. This was called by the ancients the Crux Ansata, or the cross of life (as illustrated as the ankh). It was the key to the Mysteries of antiquity and it probably gave rise to the more modern story of St. Peter’s golden key to heaven. In the Mysteries of Egypt, the candidate passed through all forms of actual and imaginary dangers, holding above his head the Crux Ansata, before which the powers of darkness fell back abashed. The student is reminded of the words In hoc signo vinces. The TAU form of the cross is not unlike the seal of Venus, as Richard Payne Knight has noted. He states: “The cross in this form is sometimes observable on coins, and several of them were found in a temple of Serapis [the Serapeum], demolished at the general destruction of those edifices by the Emperor Theodosius, and were said by the Christian antiquaries of that time to signify the future life.”
Augustus Le Plongeon, in his Sacred Mysteries Among the Mayas and Quiches, notes that the Crux Ansata, which he calls The Key to the Nile and the Symbol of Symbols, either in its complete form or as a simple TAU, was to be seen adorning the breasts of statues and bas-reliefs at Palenque, Copan, and throughout Central America. He notes that it was always associated with water; that among the Babylonians it was the emblem of the water gods; among the Scandinavians, of heaven and immortality; and among the Mayas, of rejuvenation and freedom from physical suffering.The third form of the cross is the familiar Roman or Greek type, which is closely associated with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, although it is improbable that the cross used resembled its more familiar modern form. There are unlimited sub-varieties of crosses, differing in the relative proportions of their vertical and horizontal sections.
The third form of the cross is the familiar Roman or Greek type, which is closely associated with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, although it is improbable that the cross used resembled its more familiar modern form. There are unlimited sub-varieties of crosses, differing in the relative proportions of their vertical and horizontal sections. Among the secret orders of different generations, we find compounded crosses, such as the triple TAU in the Royal Arch of Freemasonry and the double and triple crosses of both Masonic and Roman Catholic symbolism.
To the Christian, the cross has a twofold significance.
First, it is the symbol of the death of his Redeemer, through whose martyrdom he feels that he partakes of the glory of God; secondly, it is the symbol of humility, patience, and the burden of life. It is interesting that the cross should be both a symbol of life and a symbol of death. Many nations deeply considered the astronomical aspect of religion, and it is probable that the Persians, Greeks, and Hindus looked upon the cross as a symbol of the equinoxes and the solstices, in the belief that at certain seasons of the year the sun was symbolically crucified upon these imaginary celestial angles.
That secret portion of Masonry which is known only to the initiates as distinguished from exoteric Masonry, or monitorial, which is accessible to all who choose to read the manuals and published works of the Order. The words are from the Greek, εσωτερικός, internal, and εξωτερική, external, and were first used by Pythagoras, whose philosophy was divided into the exoteric, or that taught to all, and the esoteric, or that taught to a select few; and thus his disciples were divided into two classes, according to the degree of initiation to which the had attained, as being either fully admitted into the society, and invested with all the knowledge that the Master could communicate or as merely postulants, enjoying only the public instructions of the school, and awaiting the gradual reception of further knowledge. This double mode of instruction was borrowed by Pythagoras from the Egyptian priests, whose theology was of two kinds-the one exoteric, and addressed to the people in general; the other esoteric, and confined to a select number of the priests and to those who possessed, or were to possess, the regal power. And the mystical nature of this concealed doctrine was expressed in their symbolic language by the images of sphinxes placed at the entrance of their temples. Two centuries later, Aristotle adopted the system of Pythagoras, and, in the Lyceum at Athens, delivered in the morning to his select disciples his subtle and concealed doctrines concerning God Nature, and Life, and in the evening lectured on more elementary subjects to a promiscuous audience. These different lectures he called his Morning and his Evening Walk.